Notre Dame center Brianna Turner smiles through the challenges
SOUTH BEND — It's difficult to find a time when Brianna Turner isn't smiling.
Even the game-day frequent challenges on the basketball court seem to light up Notre Dame's 6-foot-3 sophomore center.
Turner generally is surrounded by teams trying to defend her strong inside game. She is constantly jostled and walled in by opponents.
“It's not frustrating to constantly be double-teamed,” she said. “It's an opportunity. When that happens it means one of our shooters is open. We have so many good shooters, I just need to find one.”
Turner and her Irish teammates will be facing another challenge Sunday when they host Miami, a team boasting a 21-4 record (9-3 ACC). The Hurricanes are the only team to defeat Notre Dame in its three seasons in the Atlantic Coast Conference. That happened last year, but the Irish atoned with a victory over Miami in the postseason ACC tourney.
“That was good for us,'' said Notre Dame coach Muffet McGraw. "We needed that,”
Turner even likes the defensive challenges that Notre Dame faces. Describing her team's lockdown defense in a come-from-behind victory over Louisville last Sunday, Turner said it was a case of knowing what had to be done.
“I like to think our defense is always on, but I think we know when it is time to dig down a little bit deeper — when we know we have to have that stop.”
McGraw, who learned Friday she is a finalist for the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame, likes how her defense has responded to challenges as well.
“We have our defensive squad with Mychal (Johnson) and Hannah (Huffman),'' she said. "It's a good defensive group. We have been able to get some stops. They know when to switch out — when to help on defense.”
The sophomore Johnson and senior Huffman have been called on often when ND needed some defensive intensity.
In a handful of close games this season, McGraw credits the Irish success to another ingredient, also.
“It's poise,'' she said. "We are smart. We are confident. We don't panic when we get down. We know what we have to do. We are going to get good shots. They might not always drop but we will get them.”
Since the victory over Louisville last Sunday, Notre Dame has been idle.
“The break was good for us,'' said McGraw. "We had seven players with something wrong with them.''
Freshmen Arike Ogunbowale and Marina Mabrey had the flu, Turner was congested with a cold, and maybe the most severe of the ailing was grad student Madison Cable, who had a boot on her ankle all week.
Cable suffered the injury against Louisville, played through it, but was put in the boot Monday.
She did not practice this week and was in the boot until Thursday night.
"I would list her as probable for the game Sunday,'' McGraw said. "The only way to keep her off the court was in a boot. She is tough – a warrior.”
All the Irish players were on the court and at practice Friday.
Turner downplayed the affects of her cold.
“I was just stuffed up. Yes, February has been a grind. But I feel good. I was not as bad as some of the others. We will be ready to go.”
McGraw hopes so.
“It will be a good matchup,'' she said. "(Miami's) guards are really good. They are fast and are good shooters.”
Turner has been playing her best basketball of the season. She and Cable lead the team in scoring at 13.9 points a game. Turner is also the team's leader in rebounds at 6.8 a game, closely followed by sophomore Kathryn Westbeld at 6.2.
Miami has limited opponents to 57.8 points a game.
McGraw and Notre Dame need a victory to stay atop the ACC standings. Unblemished in league play at 11-0, both Louisville and upcoming opponent Florida State have only one league loss.
After Sunday's game against Miami, ND has contests at Wake Forest and a Monday night (Feb. 22) ESPN matchup at Florida State, before closing the regular season at home against Clemson and Boston College.
WHO: No. 3 Notre Dame 23-1 (11-0) vs. No. 19/17 Miami 21-4 (9-3).
WHEN: Sunday at 1 p.m. (EST)
WHERE: Purcell Pavilion
TICKETS: Available by calling (574) 631-7356, going online to UND.com/buytickets.
TELEVISION: ACC Regional Sports Network (Comcast channel 101)
RADIO: Pulse FM (96.9/92.1) South Bend, WatchND (audio only)
INTERNET: ESPN3 and watchnd.tv
GAME NOTES: Sunday's game will be Notre Dame's annual Pink Zone game, an initiative to raise funds to fight cancer. Coach Muffet McGraw and her husband Matt will donate $100 for each 3-point shot the Irish make Sunday to help the fundraising effort. Though 20 percent of the funds raised go the national Kay Yow Cancer Fund, the other 80 percent remains in the local community ... Miami coach Katie Meier is in her 11th season with the Hurricanes. She was a four-year starter during her college days at Duke ... Miami is led by Adrienne Motley, a 5-9 junior guard, who scores 16.3 points a game. Classmate Jessica Thomas, a 5-6 guard, adds 11.8 points. The team's leading rebounder is 6-1 redshirt junior Keyona Hayes at 5.9 boards a game.